The Internet and Student Research: Teaching Critical Evaluation Skills

Article excerpt

TO USE THE INTERNET EFFECTIVELY, STUDENTS NEED TO BE TAUGHT CRITICAL EVALUATION SKILLS THAT THEY CAN APPLY TO EACH WEB SITE THEY USE FOR RESEARCH. THE ACTION RESEARCH REPORT DISCUSSED IN THIS ARTICLE EXEMPLIFIES THE COLLABORATIVE TEAMWORK INVOLVED IN CREATING A CRITICAL-EVALUATION UNIT FOR INTERNET SITES TO BE USED WITH MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS.

Results off the unit show that giving students background information on the Internet and showing Internet site examples to change their previous perceptions increased their understanding of the research tool. Teaching students about ways to evaluate Internet sites gave the students the information they needed to make more informed decisions about how they use the Internet.

INTRODUCTION

The school year has begun and research projects are underway, but the library shelves are quiet and unused. A quick survey of the computer area shows once again that the students are using the Internet as their first source to locate information. As I watch this scene day after day, I ask these questions: Why do students find the Internet so appealing? Do students know the credibility of sites on the Internet? Do students know how to evaluate sites before using them? Would a unit on how to critically evaluate Internet sites increase the information literacy of the students? I decided to do action research to answer these questions.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Information literacy is defined as "a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the information needed" (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000, p. 2). An important part of information literacy is the ability to evaluate Internet sources critically and to decide if each source is unbiased, accurate, and written by a qualified person who has specific knowledge on the topic. This ability is crucial to being a good user of resources and to research. However, many Internet users do not realize that "quality control does not exist on the Internet ... there is a cesspool of waste" (Herring, 2001, Reasons section, para. 3).

Internet users "have developed an infatuation with information; any information is good information--the more of it, the better, as long as it is easy to obtain" (Scott &t O'Sullivan, 2000, Value of Learning section, para. 6). Students usually choose less reliable commercial sites over educational or government sites for their research even though only one fourth of the commercial sites are suitable for academic purposes (Haycock, 2000). Students avoid more reliable databases and library materials because these sources take more time and involve more steps with fewer results (O'Sullivan et Scott, 2000).

The results of a questionnaire study (O'Sullivan &t Scott, 2000) about students' preferred use of materials indicated that the majority of the students chose the Internet to conduct research, citing ease of use, speed of use, and the convenience of finding infinite information quickly as the top reasons for their choice. Almost 63% of the students cited the information's depth and variety as being a benefit of the Internet. Only 10% noted downfalls to the Internet, such as bias or inaccurate information. Students' responses also showed that they do not view information on the Internet critically.

Watson's research (2001) focused on the grade level at which students would be most receptive to learning Internet critical evaluation skills. The research showed that middle school students are the prime targets for information literacy skill training because they are still actively experimenting with the Internet and have reached a developmental stage where they can better comprehend the reliability of information.

These studies indicate a strong need for information literacy instruction on the quality of the material presented on the Internet. …